Donovan, Al StewartFox Tucson Theatre, Saturday, Feb. 9
The crowd for Donovan and Al Stewart's solo acoustic performances was mostly older--people who'd been teenagers in the '60s, and are now in their 60s. Certainly, nostalgia is a key factor whenever a performer whose heyday has passed goes on tour, and both performers made no bones about reliving the old days.
Stewart's performance catered to the audience smartly--he claimed one of the night's songs, "A Child's View of the Eisenhower Years," had just been written, and he solicited the crowd for possible lyrical cues. Audience suggestions ran the gamut, from "hula hoops" to one woman's passionate shout of "industrial military complex!" Stewart giggled over that and wondered how he could fit something so unwieldy into one of his folk-pop numbers.
Donovan's approach to recalling yesteryear was slightly different.
In some ways, it's not fair to compare the two performers. Stewart is a virtuoso guitar player, and his performance was showy and energetic, full of crystalline precision and dynamic range. Donovan was much more understated, spending most of the night perched on a stool with his forest-green guitar in hand (though he did bring a little more shimmy to his later numbers--hits like "Season of the Witch," "Hurdy Gurdy Man" and "Mellow Yellow"--even shaking his rump at one point, to the delight of the ladies in the audience). But Donovan kept asking the crowd to sing along and clap in rhythm with his songs; in those moments, he came off more like a relaxed, breathy-voiced camp counselor than a consummate performer.
The evening's biggest bonus was the series of anecdotes both performers relayed to the crowd. Stewart recalled recording one song endlessly over the course of a year for Yoko Ono, adding a funny impression of her singing style. Donovan described writing "Hurdy Gurdy Man" while on retreat in India with the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. "We were all Hurdy Gurdy Men back then," he told the crowd, "singing our songs of love."
Donovan's set moved from more obscure pieces--including an endless number about a trio of pirates--into his more popular stuff, like "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting" and a cover of Joan Baez' "Donna, Donna."
All in all, Donovan might not have sparkled as much as Stewart, but the crowd adored him, shouting at several junctures, "We love you," and, "Nice to see you again!"